Monday, September 11, 2006

Is Bush to Blame for 9/11?

With the anniversary of the September 11th attacks at hand, I might as well address the topic much debated among George Bush's critics -- should he be blamed for the attacks.

This question can be asked at three levels. Did the Bush Administration plan or participate in the attacks. Did the Bush Administration intentionally fail to stop the attacks. And was the Administration culpably negligent in failing to prevent the attacks.

Was the Bush Administration behind the attacks?

This is a question taken seriously only by conspiracy nuts, and is not worth wasting much time. I lack the time, resources, or technical expertise to devote to rebutting it, many others have already made such rebuttals. I will point out, however, one obvious flaw in the belief that Bush staged the attacks and faked Al Qaeda's role to justify his war. Since it should be obvious that the war he truly wanted was in Iraq, not Afghanistan, why not just fake Saddam Hussein's involvement? Granted, Administration members, particularly Dick Cheney, have made a couple of attempts, but they have all been signal failures. If the Administration could pull off such an elaborate hoax faking Al Qaeda's role and be so utterly inept in faking Iraq's?

Did the Administration intentionally allow terrorist attacks to occur?

This question deserves more serious consideration. After all, there can be no doubt that Cheney and many neoconservative members of the Administration wanted to invade Iraq and desparately hopes for a "new Pearl Harbor" to give them an excuse. The September 11 attacks were a provocation beyond their wildest dreams.

And yet they were not. While I do think it fair to say that the more hawkish members of the Administration wanted some sort of provocation to give them an excuse for war, the September 11 attacks were an entirely unexpected kind of attack from an entirely unexpected quarter. Many people have commented that the Bush Administration failed to take the Al Qaeda threat seriously until it was too late. The reason for this, I believe, is that so many members had served in the Reagan and Bush I administration, and were not in the government when Al Qaeda appeared on the radar screen. Their focus was on the Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and it was with this axis that they wanted war.

Thus I believe the Administration was eagerly awaiting the first plausible provocation from some member of the Axis, but preferably Iraq, to start a war. Saddam's expulsion of the weapons inspectors would have been the perfect pretext, but that liberal fool Clinton let it go, so the neocons could not use it. The discovery that some member had uranium centrifuges might have been an acceptable excuse, as would a variety of diplomatic incidents. Quite possibly, some of the more hawkish members of the Administration might even have been willing to provoke some sort of incident in the no-fly zones to serve as a new Gulf on Tonkin incident.

I see no reason to believe that the thought of an attack on the U.S. homeland ever occurred to anyone in the Administration. Once again, once it occurred perhaps it might have been considered a boon to the the more hawkish members who wanted an excuse for war. But it was also a serious annoyance because it came from an unexpected quarter and forced the Administration into the clearly unwanted distraction of having to invade Afghanistan instead of proceeding directly to Iraq.

I am not one of those people who thinks Bush cared so little for his fellow countrymen that he would allow such an attack. And even if he were, that attack only partly suited his purposes.

Was the Administration culpably negligent?

So, I have said that the Bush Administration were not intentionally remiss in allownig a terrorist attack because they did not realize the severity of the threat. Does that mean I think they were culpably negligent in failing to recognize it?

Yes and no. It may well be that the Bush Administration should have given a higher priority to terrorism in the months before September 11. But I see no reason to believe that doing so would have prevented the attacks. The U.S. went on super high level alert as the year 2000 approached. Yet this high-level alert did nothing to stop the Millenium Attack; rather we simply caught a lucky break. So we caught some potential breaks before September 11 as well; was the Administration remiss in failing to "connect the dots?"

I would say no. Saying that Bush should have connected the dots ignores the well-known phenomenon of "noise," i.e., all the tips, leads and clues that lead to nothing. The "dots" the Administration should have connected must be seen in the context of all the other "dots" out there. The ultimate emerging picture would be a huge, random set of "dots" that could mean anything only in the light of hindsight. No intelligence system is fail-safe. Sooner or later, something will slip by. The Bush Adminstration is being blamed for not being omniscient. That is a totally unreasonable demand.

In short, I do not believe that the Bush Administration is in any way at fault for the September 11 attacks and should be given a clean pass. The way they have exploited the attacks to their political advantage is bad enough.

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